NICHOLAS ST JOHN
Pretend Yr Dead
I am a shitty diarist. I often read my entries and blush, glad they will remain forever a secret. I barely record events; I record neurosis, speculation and the things that crawl inside my skull.
Jesus wakes up feeling crappy, crawls across the cave floor, and pushes a mighty rock away despite his sore hands, then flies up to God like an untied balloon. The May King Ginsberg is banished from Prague, and scribbles profundity on a plane that reaches mid Heaven, a moral doodler a bit like Moses, I suppose. Dunedin, however, is a godless place.
I don’t know what I mean by any of this. What I meant to write was Love has gone out and I smoke cigarettes.
Worse still I fill my diary with poetry shittier than my hysterical entries. I am tortured by my poetry. It oozes out of me, sick blood from a wound, sticky filling from a cracked crème egg.
Damn the bastard Poetry! Bury him dead and torn in a nameless tomb!
The poems are so bad that I destroy them with scissors or a fat black marker pen. I preserve only their titles, as a reminder to never do that again.
You walk down the street. I walk down the street, opposite. Neither of us notice, on purpose. I pretend
Poetry is the last gasp of the failing diarist. Poetry is an attempt until breaking point at the poles of language. It is the worship of one’s own asshole, and an exercise in bleak magick, to change the world with words so it is closer to one’s own will, vision.
I apologise; too much valium, too many Marlboro Lights.
To begin, Goodbye
It is never easy to be the one left behind, Elisa.
When we loved each other, we painted ourselves to look like the glamorous and dead, pale faces and dark eyelids. Mascara always gave you poise, and you were poised when we said goodbye.
We were in my father’s living room, on thinning carpet, a poor stage for solemn goodbyes. He was probably making himself scarce. He always tried to be discreet and understanding, glad I had a girlfriend at all.
We were just out of school. You were leaving for university; I was staying for university. You were not apologising, but I said I understood anyway, and you said that just because we were together, it didn’t mean that other things couldn’t happen.
“Promise me, Nicky,” you said, filled with hope that I would find other things before you did. At the time I took it for wishing me well, not a polite “excuse me.”
“I love you,” I said, and kissed you goodbye.
I watched as you drove down my Dad’s street, waved. Your little mini chattered brightly away while the sky refused to fall, the trees would not burst into flames, and I could spy no angels hanging themselves, choking in rope and resolute despair. Instead my stomach gently turned itself over, which seemed worse, and I resolved to save all my toilet-cleaning money and visit you at Easter. Toilet cleaning is not a good job for those with sensitive skin or sensibilities.
I scrape shit off the side of wishing wells.
I scarcely noticed varsity. I went to classes, to Orientation bands, read Wuthering Heights, but mainly I was waiting by the phone. You called sometimes, to explain why you never called, you were so busy. I believed you, and sent too many letters.
People said you were doing well. For instance, Eva with devil red hair. We were sitting in the Quad drinking cheap coffee.
Eva: Lise called last night.
Me: Yeah? (picks at nail polish)
Eva: Yeah. She sounds good.
Eva: She, um, said to say hi.
Eva: Dunedin sounds like a lot of fun. Record shopping’s better. (pause)She’s meeting people and stuff.
Stupid Me: Cool.
In my English Tutorial immediately afterward, some fucking Wiccan used Wuthering Heights to declare “At heart, I am an Incurable Romantic.” He turned his doughy face skyward as he said it and stared, stupid, at the ceiling. It was clear to me he was not suffering enough to understand romance.
Sometimes, Elisa, I would burn a candle for you in my room, as if you were a saint. I do not think you cared. So I wrote a poem about stalking you. I don’t think that helped either.
When I flew down to visit you at Easter, everything was wrong. You met me outside your hostel. We embraced but did not kiss, though our bodies still fitted together, familiar, perfect.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” you said. You must have sensed my secret panic in your arms.
I pretended happiness, sitting in the honeysun with you, on green grass, in front of the ugly concrete living blocks. Your silence was strange, so I said “I’ve got an idea for a story.”
“What?” you asked, glad I wasn’t sulking.
“It’s an Easter story.”
You raised one eyebrow, plucked immaculately.
“It’s about Judas. He loves Jesus, right, but he has to betray him. It’s about God being a murderer. Judas has to betray Jesus because it’s God’s will that Jesus be crucified. Judas has no choice, and is forced to sin against God and his own love for Jesus. They might fuck.”
“That’s not a story. It’s an interpretation with a sex scene in the middle.”
“I think it’s a kind of love story.”
“You’re being provocative. You never even went to church.”
“It’s an Easter story.”
You sighed, smiled.
“I’m thinking of becoming a writer,” I said, but I didn’t tell you how my story was meant to end. Judas hangs himself, but he can’t die. He is throttled, but he doesn’t die. So he cuts himself down with a pair of scissors, and walks the earth, deathless, loveless, heartbroken, witnessing the whole fucking world slump ever onward until the end of time. And writing shitty poetry.
So I stayed in your tiny hostel room for three days, and it would have been wonderful if it hadn’t been so horrible. “Welcome to my grotto,” you said, spider to a fly. The concrete walls were grim as a tomb, though you had put up posters of our mutual idols, William Burroughs, the singer from Bauhaus, Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, the Gashlycrumb Tinies.
“I’ll sleep on the floor,” I offered without meaning it.
“Yeah, alright,” you said. “You can get a mattress off the floor warden for five bucks a night, although I didn’t say you’d be staying. It should be okay.” The floor warden took on a sinister role in my mind, dispenser of mattresses and monitor of visitors, ready to ejaculate unwelcome interlopers. I decided to avoid him and exist entirely as a rumour.
“I’ll be fine,” I said.
You slept easily, dreamlessly, and I slept scarcely at all, didn’t want to understand what was happening. I read Ginsberg by candlelight, as if Ginsberg ever helped anything. I read and reread his poem framed by pictures of himself inside penis columns. As if penises ever helped anything.
I blew out the candle and your holy breath filled the dark; and in the morning, I lay sleepless and sore on the floor. You got up, showered, came back and dressed in front of me, as if it were nothing unusual, your striptease in reverse. I didn’t know where to look, your nakedness a joke at my expense. You laughed, asked me which bra you should wear, and struck one of your Monroe poses.
I wanted to cry, and suggested the red one.
“You’ve been reading Ginsberg again?” you asked, looking at the broken spine of my Selected Poems. Poetry fell apart in the face of you. Alan stared up at the ceiling from the wrinkled cover, beardy-old and meditation-wise, Jewish and sort of frog-like.
“Yeah.” Somehow it was a guilty admission, reading Ginsberg.
“You are sooo queer, baby.”
Until you, I thought I was gay. Most people said I was, and I never looked at girls that way. I was fey, even for the kind of boy who wears mascara. I’d gotten nervous about changing rooms and toilets. My father said that fags congregate in toilets. I had never kissed, never held hands, never had a blow job. Nowadays I don’t know how to look at boys or girls or anyone so I keep to myself.
“Get up, lazy,” you said to me. “Wash the sleep from your brains.”
We ate breakfast in the kitchenette on your floor. Some of the hostel guys introduced themselves. “Gidday,” they said. “I’m Barrel. And this is Dog.” They were similar, though Barrel was fatter than Dog, more barrelled.
“Hi, I’m Nicky. I’m staying with Lise.”
They looked at me. I looked at them. They squinted hard at my face, trying to determine if I really was wearing make up. Eyeshadow proved a mistake.
Dog pugged his face, tucked his collar up, and that was that. He and Barrel strode down the hallway, indiscreetly wondering whether I was a fag.
“Don’t mind them,” you said, “They’re kind of okay really.”
I was unconvinced.
Back in your room, burning incense cones, I asked if we could Talk, and you said Sure, okay. I asked what was happening and you said you didn’t know what I meant and I said I meant This.
“Do you want to be with me?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” you said, quiet as a mouse.
“Oh,” I said, then asked if you were fucking someone else, mean question and melodrama. You squeezed your eyes shut, and didn’t have to explain. I should not have asked a question like that if I didn’t want to hurt us both.
You said that I should meet him, your good friend, that I would like him. I think you intended us to meet that afternoon, regardless of any stupid questions I might have asked.
His name was Liam, friend of a friend of somebody’s brother. He was like me, but taller than me and older than me, more handsome, with beautiful long dreads and nailpolish that was almost entirely picked away. He was touched by the vagueness that comes from years of dedicated pot smoking.
Liam lived in a tumbledown flat by himself, with holes in the roof and occasional hot water. He was friendly, dressed in tumbledown clothes, and offered us herbal tea. He had some honey to sweeten it, he said.
You introduced me as your friend. I said Hello, and that I didn’t want any tea, thankyou. You said that you’d like something peppermint if he had it and explained how friendly he had been. Certainly, he was amiable, though I don’t think he could understand why you had chosen to introduce us, thought it cruel. I, however, knew your reasoning.
I asked if I could have just a glass of water, please, and I talked and laughed and smiled, and all of those things, though I was nervesick. I thought my ability to cope would impress you.
He wasn’t your boyfriend, as I had been. I think he was an exit, a friend, fun. He did yoga every morning, and excused himself to meditate as the sun slid away and the air turned cold. The meditators and the yogis must be good lovers, always practising selfless detachment and flexibility.
You had arranged for us to go over to one of his friend’s flats for drinks that evening. I was undelighted.
“Only twenty minutes and Jesus is alive again,” you said.
I laughed, and Easter Sunday crept closer, and my mouth was full of wine, cheap and red. I had been Visibly Coping Well at Liam’s friends’.
“You wanna go for a walk?” I asked.
“Sure,” you said. I was pissed enough to want to Talk again. I think you could tell because, somehow, Liam came too.
We walked out past flat, black suburbs until we were stumbling across ocean-side cliffs. Waves the size of houses smashed into the shore, freezing gifts from the pole. There was no moon. Stars shone down cold from clear heavens. Our breath turned white. I stared out past the waves and saw that the sea did not separate itself from the sky at all, that there was no horizon, just a vast and distant blackness, and the waves came from nothing, from nowhere.
The sun is hidden by the earth, exactly opposite us.
Liam was being as kind as he could, excused himself briefly to look for mushrooms. “Just coming into season,” he said, optimistically. “I know this guy who ate about a hundred and fifty once. He just stood in a field all night, too scared to move. AHAHAHAHAHA.” He wandered into the dark, scrutinising the ground, hands thrust into the pockets of his trenchcoat. I tried to imagine how the air must have crept around his friend, the hidden nighttime monsters that a hundred and fifty mushrooms could make apparent.
Once he was faraway, invisible, we argued viciously. Too pissed to do anything else, I asked and pleaded and prayed for you back. I stumbled onto my knees and got them muddy, a drunken accident. You wouldn’t have it, and I can’t blame you for telling me to go fuck myself.
I puke on my boots, lovesick.
The next morning I gave you a crème egg for your hangover, and wished you happy Easter, and then I took six panadol, though I considered taking more. You barely spoke to me, but ate the egg. I stole glances at your sticky lips, giddy, liquorsick.
Sunrise, a shining anus in the sky. The light is like chocolate.
It is easy to think that Apocalypse is just around the corner, ready to unfold itself on a waiting world when you need it the most. But that night when I stared into nothing and you told me you would not love me anymore, the stars wouldn’t howl and the world wouldn’t end.
So I made you dead, Elisa. I killed you with poetry.
I cut up poems with a razor, and crossed them out.
Sticky brown fingers spell her out on the ouija board –
Skin pale as soap. the grey north name Is El.
Enthrone the lord of sorrow, damn La belle. Black Sa bird croak. Press your hands against her and Mourn.
You are dead, Elisa.
There were other poems, unkinder, killing poems, unrepeatable.
Life passed me by, slow as writer’s block. I was seldom invited out because I was no fun, and everybody thought I was being an Incurable Romantic or a Poet or something equally ghastly, sitting by myself in the little graveyard next to the university. Smoking too much and taking pills at inappropriate times, I had become viscous, undesirable, haunted and shunned.
Few things are more sinister than communiqués from beyond the grave. From beyond, you asked me to tea, a ghostly telecommunication that came once the mid-year holidays started. I accepted. I didn’t know what to say to the dead.
“Fuck poetry! Fuck!” I yelled once the receiver was back in its cradle. My father became concerned that though I was not A Homosexual, I was having A Nervous Breakdown.
Prior to the appointed hour, I walked up and down Cuba Street, from the stinking fish works down to the mall with singing madmen and back again, past slouching madmen and smoking madmen, and the drop-in centre that smells like stinking fish because it’s just next door to the works. I noticed that all madmen have beards, eventually. I was window shopping, looking for the right words, an elegy for you and me. I got to the café late, on purpose, though first I took a note; Poetry is pretty shining spittle in the beard of a madman.
You were there, patient, still dressed in black, but not so funereal, plainer, more fashionable, still as pretty as the devil. My hair wasn’t half blue, half black like it used to be, instead straight black, shorter, spikier. I was considering a beard.
“You’re looking good,” I said.
You said “You too,” with a smile that wasn’t angry, wasn’t sorry either. I ate salad and you ate salad, and I wondered when you would consume my brains. “You’re quiet,” you said.
“Salad makes me thoughtful,” I said.
“Oh.” Once upon a time you’d have laughed.
I said, “Do you miss. The way. We were?” broken in pieces.
You looked tired and didn’t answer.
I wanted to explain that I had killed you, Elisa, maybe apologise, enjoy a murderer’s notoriety. You should have been tucked away under the ground, shit and muck and stone. Instead I played with my food, and made an excuse to leave early. You seemed disappointed, although I don’t know why.
cold world, brown sun
A few days later, I see you on the street, in front of a secondhand bookstore and a Christian pamphleteer, with Eva. You wave, beckon, smile. My stomach knots itself like gallows rope, my hands twist in Lazarene horror.
I ignore you.
You wave again.
Yr a dead girl walking amongst us.
I look left.
I look right.
I cross, pretend yr dead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas St John was born in 1975 and lives under an assumed name. He has been published in Sport, Landfall, The Picnic Virgin, and an Australian collection of short comics, where his work has since been mistaken for pornography. He really isn’t that bitter or twisted anymore.